Al Qaeda-linked militant group in Mali executes British hostage

The killing of Edwin Dyer underscores the growing threat posed by militants in North Africa with links to global terrorist groups.

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An Al Qaeda-linked militant group says it has executed a British hostage in Mali, and only hours later was reported to have killed eight people near the Algerian capital, underscoring the growing threat that militancy poses in North and West Africa.

Edwin Dyer was vacationing in Niger in late January went he was abducted by militants and taken to neighboring Mali. The militants had threatened to kill Mr. Dyer unless the British government released Abu Qatada, a notorious extremist leader currently awaiting extradition from London. Several deadlines passed and Dyer was not killed, but on Wednesday the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb announced on a website that it had in fact carried out its threat.

In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed to root out extremists in North Africa, whose attacks have become more frequent and more widespread. "This tragedy reinforces our commitment to confront terrorism. It strengthens our determination never to concede to the demands of terrorists, nor to pay ransoms," Brown said in statement, according to Agence France-Presse.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is based in Algeria and joined ranks with Al Qaeda in 2006, has recently stepped up efforts to kidnap foreigners for ransom, as Reuters points out:

In February 2008, Austrian tourists Andrea Kloiber ... and Wolfgang Ebner ... disappeared while on holiday in Tunisia and were held hostage by al Qaeda's North African wing for eight months in a remote desert area of Mali.... The Austrians were freed unharmed eight months later.
In April 2009 two Canadian diplomats and two European tourists held hostage by al Qaeda's north African wing in the Sahara were released after several months in captivity. The group had demanded 20 of its members be freed from detention in Mali and other countries as a condition for releasing the hostages.

Dyer's particular nightmare began in January, as Britain's Daily Telegraph reports.

His ordeal started with a so-called "show execution" where kidnappers fired a gun just an inch away from the head of a member of his party as they attacked the group's convoy.
He was then taken with three other tourists - two Swiss citizens and a German woman - who were on their way back from a festival of nomad culture at Anderamboukane in Mali on January 22.

Dyer's execution underscored the links that AQIM – also known as Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa – has to transnational terrorist groups, by putting a notorious figure back into the spotlight: Mr. Qatada, a Jordanian who the British government hopes soon to extradite back to Jordan. The BBC explains:

Abu Qatada was once described as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe".

He was granted asylum in the UK in 1994, but went on the run in 2001 on the eve of government moves to introduce new anti-terror laws allowing suspects to be detained without charge or trial.
In October 2002, he was caught and taken to Belmarsh Prison, but was freed on bail in March 2005, subject to a control order.
He was taken back into custody in August that year and held until June 2008. After another short period of freedom, he was detained again in December last year and remains in Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, pending extradition.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in February on a British court's decision to extradite Qatada to Jordan, where he is wanted on terrorism charges, despite claims that he could face torture there.

Kidnapping is only one form of menace AQIM has inflicted on a growing area across North and West Africa. On Wednesday, Algerian militants carried out of the first attacks against civilians in months, reports the Associated Press.

Al-Qaida-linked militants killed two teachers and eight police escorts as they brought copies of tests back from an examination center near the Algerian capital, a local official and Algerian media said Wednesday....
Algerian militants are a leftover from a near civil war between the government and Islamists that killed up to an estimated 200,000 people during the 1990s.
Most of the violence has since abated, but hard-liners stepped up suicide bombings and attacks after joining Osama bin Laden's terror network in 2006 under the name al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa."

Growing attacks like this have compelled regional governments to "[intensify] security links between themselves," as the World Defense Review details.

In the wake of an AQIM attack on the Mauritanian convoy near Tourine last year, the government of Morocco sent military advisors to Mauritania to provide the government there with training and advice on force protection and patrol tactics. Just last week Mali's President Amadou Toumani Touré called again for regional action against the threat and dispatched his defense minister to confer with Algeria's President Bouteflika, who has dispatched weapons, fuel, and other materiel to his neighbor. Over the weekend, the Malian military deployed three combat units to Kidal, a town on the border with Algeria and Niger, after one of Belmoktar's convoys was spotted in the vicinity.
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